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February 27, 2015

unfinished—

There was nothing relaxing about the award-winning Iranian film we watched last Friday. The opening scene showed a distressed couple squabbling before a divorce lawyer, and the film got increasingly intense, focusing on the complex relationships in an Iranian family. The cinematography was simple and stark, adding to the abrupt and honest feel of the film. About 30 minutes in, we were uptight and stressed. But we endured, because we knew that after another hour and a half, we'd have a resolution to the mysteries of the movie, and go to bed pleased.



Ninety minutes later, Persian script that looked a lot like credits started scrolling up the screen. 

Certainly this wasn't the end of the film, we thought. It was uncomfortably unfinished—

Which parent did the daughter choose to live with?
Did they remain in Iran or emigrate? 

What happened to the maid and her husband?
Did their creditors come for them?


Stunned, we watched until the credits finished playing, and a few logos flashed on the screen. It was true; the movie was over. A film's ending has never surprised me so much. In fact, we felt a bit abandoned: the movie raised more questions than it answered!

A few days later, I was still commenting to my husband:
That movie didn't tell us who stole the money from their apartment.


We ask only one thing of our entertainment: that it give us resolution. The story line can be complicated, but in the end, we demand completed thoughts, tied-together stories. They don't have to marry each other, they don't even have to survive, but we want to know what happens to them. And we do want a reasonably happy ending at least 70% of the time, thank-you-very-much. Hollywood movies feed what our human hearts idolize: perfect knowledge (and as often as possible, happy endings). 

We lie down on the sofa for two hours in the midst of our own complicated, unresolved life stories and we beg our media to give us an escape from real life, where the answers don't come in 120 minutes or less. And we have miniscule attention spans, so giving us a hint as to the ending at the 60-minute mark would be nice, too.

A Separation was intentionally truer to life than our usual Hollywood fare. We all have, and are, unfinished stories. We've all had relationships that seemed warm and then changed, with no explanation. Most of us remember a family that moved suddenly and made no contact again. Childhood friends come to mind once in a while, and we wonder what they're doing now. Singles wonder, will I ever marry, and if so, when? Marrieds wonder, can we have children, and when? Or worse, divorces and deaths leave questions in our minds


things that feel unfinished

because we don't understand them. Our hearts and minds are full of unfinished moments, like the nearly-empty jar of marmalade that taunts me from the fridge, or the lightweight conditioner bottle in the shower stall. I look at them and want to finish, clean, and recycle them—I want to have resolution.

Is it so wrong that we want resolution? Weren't we made for reconciliation, not for difficult relationships? Weren't we created with curious minds that want to know?  

Perhaps there's nothing wrong wishing to know, but demanding to know things that aren't revealed to us...that is wrong.

Man has never had a world where he knew all, even in the perfect Garden. We've only ever known what the Creator has revealed in His Word and His world. Man has always been expected to trust God with that which he cannot or must not know.

But in eternity future, we'll know...or will we? We often talk about chatting with Abraham, asking God our questions, or finally understanding why we went through some fiery trial. Songs like the famous Thank You have portrayed Heaven as a place where we'll find people we witnessed to or be thanked by our sponsor children. Maybe we assume that in Heaven we'll understand everything: those relationships that hurt, those questions that kept us awake, and those tragedies that almost broke us. But I wonder if we will. Because omniscience belongs only and forever to Him.



Yes, eternity vows to make clear so many things that were dim in this life. But as humans, we tend to think of a Heaven that pleases us. When we reach that day, what our eyes will be truly open to is not how great we were (by enduring some trial, or sharing truth with a stranger), but how great He is. Our eyes will be opened to His eternal reality, His omniscience. We will worship He who did indeed work all things together for good. But our focus will be less on those things, and more on the One who did those things. I don't know if we'll be asking Him: why handicaps, God? Why health problems, God? Why famine, God? Or if when we see Him, those questions will flee, and we'll do like most any in recorded history, and fall on our faces....

We'll see that He has indeed meted out justice on the earth, His righteous vengeance at last. When our own works are assessed, we'll tremble in wonder that an omniscient God could pass over us. We'll realize that He is altogether trustworthy after all, in every detail.


And all those

things that feel unfinished

will be finished,
because He finished;
It is finished.

Hallelujah.


"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." 
—Moses

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!'"
—God to Job

"Then Job answered the Lord and said...
"You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...
 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.'”
 —Job to God

"It is finished."

J'esus

"It is finished, It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hallelujah, We're alive!
Hell was silenced when you cried,
'It is finished', 'It is finished'
Matt

"...I am contented not to know,
Since Thou dost know the way." 
Amy
 
Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'
He said to me: 'It is done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, 
the Beginning and the End. 
—John

February 19, 2015

bring them in

Whether as a single or married woman, I've tried to make a habit of having people into my home regularly for tea, a snack, or a meal. There have been seasons where I've not been able to open my home much (such as when I was working as manager and putting in overtime), seasons of relearning what hospitality looks like (such as in Asia, learning what's culturally appropriate) and my current season, when we can and do have guests in our home frequently. There have been seasons when I've needed the hospitality of others, and seasons where others have needed mine. Hospitality has been a powerful force for good in my life, whether I've been the giver or receiver.

There are many reasons why I value hospitality, but one of the chief is that is that hospitality is so very Chr!stian. Hospitality is not optional for follower of the Son, it is to be part of our practice. The fact that an elder must be hospitable to qualify for eldership shows how important it is to God. There's nothing wrong with restaurants or hotels, but Chr!stian hospitality is much more than the arrangement of forks and flavoursit is the impacting of souls.

Most of the people who have impacted me long-term are people who have allowed me to spend significant time in their homes. In sermons or lectures we find words of truth, but in hospitality we find truth in action. If in the text we find the raw materials of truth, when we are served and loved in a Chr!stian home, we see what to build from those raw materials. Sometimes we might feel that the people of true impact are the ones with the teaching ministries or the authors of many books—and we could all name speakers or authors who have fed us spiritual meat, and their work is vital. But when I think of my life, everyday God-loving people who've shared their homes, food, and lives with me have had at least as much, if not more, impact on me. They put flesh and blood onto truth and show me what it looks like in their conversations and life standards.

The Master had crowds thronging around Him constantly; he taught multitudes on dusty hills and from the bow of a boat to throngs. But still we often find Him focusing His attention on individuals. We remember them, such as: the woman with a debilitating flow of blood, Mary who broke spikenard over His feet, Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, Peter who betrayed him, Martha and her busy body, Zaccheus and his radical turnaround. The Master knew that there's something about one-on-one impact that cannot be replicated en masse. The physical size of our living spaces, the wiggle room in our budgets, the commitments on our schedules...these things limit our in-home hospitality to usually be a ministry to a few individuals at a time. But our Example shows us that this one-on-one ministry is essential.

We know that hospitality (especially to like-minded people, and to strangers) is commanded to us, it's non-optional. There's nothing wrong with taking friends out to eat as an act of hospitality, rather than having them in our homes. This can be a great stop-gap when we are short on time and still want fellowship, and done with intentionality it can be highly effective. But today I want to share ten reasons why I prefer to invite people to eat in rather than out. They're both big and small reasons. Some just personal preferences; take them or leave them.


We invite people in rather than taking them out because....

  1. It's almost always healthier. I get to control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. I'm far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own.
  2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions. Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a cheap, oily Turkish wrap, so I'm reminded of this all over again. For fifteen euros, my husband and I could eat one greasy pizza out, or feed ourselves and at least two other friends in. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Hospitality is a way to make that money an investment into eternity, too. Whether or not I have guests, I would want to have a heated, furnished home, and when I share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested, for us and for them.
  3. It puts me (now us) in a position to control the atmosphere. This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, an immodest or crass server with more ice water, or someone else's crazy child at a restaurant? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful, God-honouring environment conducive to good conversation. Which leads me to my next reason....
  4. It makes my home a teaching platform. My home teaches others about what I value—and hopefully, about what God values. Usually my home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to me. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how neat our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and so many other things. I remember a friend sitting in my home and telling his friend that "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, speaking as if my home was a real oddity. But he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing my house. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, as we have opportunity to guide the conversation and set the tone. Sometimes my husband pulls out the Good Book and we read with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue edifying conversation or prayer together. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.

  5. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair. Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we (usually) order what we want individually and have our own personal experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute to community.
  6. It allows people to get to know the real me. My home puts me in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests I'm inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple, like when I invite someone wealthy to visit. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind me to be my real selfmy sincerity is much more important than my status, or lack thereof.
  7. It encourages me to keep my home clean. I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But if it hasn't gotten done, and nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently).
  8. It's an outlet for my creativity. Feeding people in my home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful napkins, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I was the one who had a Reformation Day party on October 31, complete with German food, the Luther movie and Catholic candles (with monks on them) burning. I do like theme parties and coordinating decorations....and, not surprisingly, I'm all about cooking foods from around the world.

  9. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home. Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. I have a cousin who regularly hosts couchsurfers from around the world. Their children learn to have mature conversation with adults, and "travel" by eating the guests' food and hearing their stories. (You might be interested to check out this hospitality network for people who need a place to stay, or have a place to share).
  10. It encourages others to do the same. Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it (and I still have so much to learn) is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.
What you found above is my rough philosophy of hospitality, and why I want to purposefully invite people into our home. One in every three people is lonely, or so I've been told. What better way to seek out that lonely person (whether they look lonely or not) by inviting someone to eat or drink at home with you? We serve a Father who "puts the lonely in families" and human hospitality pictures His heart that notices individuals and brings them into fellowship and community. 

Again, there's no reason hospitality has to be limited to your home. Last week a lady who lives outside our city treated me to breakfast at a restaurant not far from my home. This was more convenient for me than having to figure out how to get to her home. Her invitation, her interest in me personally, her lack of rush, her generosity in paying the tab: all these things spoke hospitality to me, someone who's been facing some loneliness of her own. Next weekend, we're invited to her home, and I know that that visit will be even more insightful into who she and her family are.

At home we have been discussing what living by faith looks like, and how faith challenges us to stretch ourselves with whom we invite into our home. Sometimes we invite people who are pleasant and mannerly, who bring a hostess gift and good conversation. But other times we're trying to invite that person who follows different dietary laws and prays five times a day. Or someone who makes us a little uncomfortable because of our different worldviews. Or the guy with a sour attitude (who secretly liked that we invited him, I think). Currently I'm working on getting up the courage to invite the neighbour over for tea. (Does it feel weirder that we share a wall? Maybe). Faith serves the people of God, but it doesn't just invite "like minds" to its table. It invites differently-oriented guests with a purpose of influencing more than being influenced. Rosaria Butterfield's story is just one beautiful example of a woman who came to faith because others took a step of faith in offering gracious, patient hospitality.

As I was finishing this post, I got a call from a lady who plans to eat here tonight. We don't know much about her, except that she's from Ghana, she does cleaning jobs, she seems lonely and she's happy to talk to English speakers. A mutual friend told us that she currently lives with the fear that B0ko Haram will soon come wreak chaos near her relatives' homes in Africa. My husband can't go there and stop the onslaught, and I can't go back and change her difficult past. But we're trying something small, believing that love shown over chicken stew in a godly home (whether you're single or married) is so very Chr!stian and makes a difference. So whenever we can, let's bring others in.  It doesn't really matter how elaborate or simple the meal. Our love and homes shout our story: "how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us!"




"He escorts me to the banquet hall;
it's obvious how much he loves me."
Shulamith (Song of Solmon 2:4 NLT)

"Share with the Lord's people who are in need.
Practice hospitality."

—Paul

February 13, 2015

i'm coming soon

Warm, late afternoon sun beats into our apartment. It hits the top of the red tulips that stand in a bold, beautiful cluster on the table, flashes on the edge of the butcher knife, bumps over the container of chopped zucchini, and throws blue-grey shadows on the cabinets. For half an hour, the kitchen blazes with glory. 

Today as it hits, I'm chopping vegetablesgorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens tumble into a mixture in the pan. Nearby, a bowl of tan, brown and black beans waits to be stirred into my concoction. As I watch light fill the room, falling over the colours and shapes of our dinner, it is a reverent moment for me...


The late afternoon sun is a joy to me, but it is also a warning: it tells me the day is almost over. It means that the hours that I have between my husband's departure for work and his return have almost elapsed, and I should have something to show for myself for this day. Something to show God, something to show my husband. If I've used my day well, the rays are a warm comfort. On wasted days, it is more of a reprimand: see how much of the day is gone? And what have you done? The sun is a faithful teacher: teaching, reproving, correcting, training.

Now, that moment has passed and the sky is a milky yellow-white, with the last of its glory dropping behind scratchy grey trees. Vegetarian chili is bubbling semi-rhythmically and my husband will be sending me his "I'm coming soon!" message shortly. There are dishes to be put away and rooms to be straightened before he and our guests arrive. This day will soon be done.

The sun serves as a marker in our days. 
  1. When the sun streaks the sky at sunrise, we have a fresh new opportunity. 
  2. When it burns in its fiery late afternoon glory we have a reminder.  
  3. When we see it dim and hide, we are challenged to evaluate our work. 
And tomorrow, we begin again.
From the morning,
to the afternoon,
to the evening.
The sun offers gracious, thrice-daily check points, if you will, that steer us into wise living. 

Well-invested weeks, months or years are always the product of without well-invested days. We say we want to live our lives for Him, but what about our days? The Son says, "I'm coming soon!" and I want to present to Him a life lived daily in light of His glory. 

February 08, 2015

love, truth and immigrants

He was the slowest one in the hall. The last one to hand in his exam booklet, and that only when the lanky proctor stood directly in front of him, good-naturedly tapping his toe and urging him to finish. Before the oral portion of our exam, he was assigned to my small group. He sat next to me nervously, his greasy hair going every whichway, his black motorcycle jacket hanging loose. In heavily-accented words, he said he is twenty-nine.

Throughout the oral exam, he struggled to get simple phrases out, his mind jerking and lurching to produce the words. At the end, he asked in basic sentences about when the results would come. "Visa...job...in the city...not much time left". The passing of the exam was probably a condition for his visa. My heart hurt for him as I stepped into the snow-swirls outside.

He is from Serbia. I came home and told my husband: "He's twenty-nine. Like me. How old would he have been when his country blew to pieces?" I knew my husband's memory of the documentary we watched about Yugoslavia would be better than mine. "Maybe ten." Ten. I was fort-building and tree-climbing. My husband was walking dogs or chasing squirrels. Our Serbian counterpart was learning firsthand what ethnic cleansing looked like. Even now, the tousle of his hair, the langsam way he answered the questions, too-old-for-his-years appearance showed me that we came from different worlds.

"I would like to have more children, but we are not settled yet. My relative, he had over fifty children....from three wives, that is." It's a leisurely Saturday afternoon and the man makes a few low jokes about taking a second wife himself. His (first) wife giggles along with him, as if his jokes are actually humorous. We're on our second round of small cups of tea; we show them a few wedding photos and exchange notes about language lessons and job opportunities. Their children are at the table, pasting and constructing a snowy scene to match the white apartment-scape outside their kitchen window. The son constructs human figures to add to the scenetheir family with an extra child in it, "He wants a sibling," his mother explains. Like father, like son.

I understand why a refugee family from Syria might be slow to have another child. Maybe they still wake at night hearing the sound of explosions or wondering when they'll need to run again. When I hear "refugee" and "Syria", I imagine a camel-hair tent or over-crowded dwellings with peeling paint. But their apartment is bright and pleasant. He's a doctor who speaks four languages. He has already found an entry-level job in his sector here, though he arrived less than two years ago. He a refugee, but he's also a high-achiever.

Who is she, the lady shielded by a thin head scarf? She converted and left her homeland to marry him. She's mild, but by her quick smile, her home, and her children, I know she must be an intelligent woman. It's obvious that she's glad we've visited. We know too, what it's like to be far from home. 

She dismisses herself for a scheduled prayer time. Later he does the same, except he prays rather demonstratively on a maroon rug a few metres from us. The kids don't pray, and us non-Syrians, we down more sweet tea.

 
Immigrants: Western Europe has them washing up on their seashores, coming by foot from father east, and piling up in refugee centres. All around me I see them, the non-locals. They've come here like it's the Promised Land. East moves West, bringing much of the East with it.

There's a thick South Asian woman on the light rail, with a few thin stalks of bhindi protruding from the top of her shopping bag. I can already imagine what she's making for supper. I hand four euros to the perhaps Central Asian man behind the shop counter. I buy popcorn and bulgar from him, but really I just wanted an excuse to visit the oddly messy and foreign-looking shop next door to the Casablanca barber full of Arabs where my husband gets his hair trimmed. I feel that these people are the foreigners, but when the woman at the photo store asks me a question I can't understand, let alone answer, I'm aware that I'm a foreigner here. I'm what the Good Book calls a "stranger".

During my wanderings through Exodus, I kept noticing the mentions of laws about treatment of the stranger or the foreigner. I wondered what Israel's immigration policy's were, and ended up doing a search of the word "stranger" in both Testaments, to see what I could learn.

One thing that stood out to me is that strangers are often lumped in with widows and orphans, and we all know how God feels about widows and orphans. God says that He Himself watches over the stranger and gives them food and clothing. He cares for the displaced. The Israelites were to emulate God by showing compassion to those who were far from home in their midst: extras of produce were to be left out for them, and part of their tithe would be used to help strangers, orphans and widows.

God always reminded Israel: "Remember, you were strangers in Egypt. So, have compassion on strangers in your midst. You will treat strangers much better in your country than the Egyptians treated you!"
  • Sabbaths and holidays were to be a rest day, for immigrants, too.
  • The cities of refuge were to offer safety to falsely accused immigrants, not only to Hebrews
  • They were allowed to participate in festivals and celebrations (though they might have to meet certain requirements, like circumcision, to participate)
  • When the Law of God was read, they were to be gathered alongside the Israelites to hear it
The West is facing a crisis in their handling of immigrants from the East. Why? Mohler states that "secular elites [have an] inability to fathom religious war". The secular Western state cannot say that last month's murders in Paris are wrong because they claim not to believe there is any universal right or wrong. They just know that it hurts really bad when French freedom of speech is disregarded by immigrants. But it would be difficult, given their purportedly secular framework, to explain why such events upset them so, or what could be done differently.

However, God had no such confusion when he built Israel's immigration policy. Immigrants were expected to live according to truth, as expressed by God's laws. If they brought along their other customs, such as infanticide (sacrificing sons to gods like Molech) or eating blood, capital punishment would be the result. We find in God's set-up the principle that love is always balanced with truth, or it is not love. 

To allow an immigrant to escape war, religious persecution or famine in his country by opening the doors of yours is love

To allow him to enter and practice other forms of evil in your land is not love.

The West is the West because for a significant period of time, evil was called evil, and good was called good. But "woe to those who call good evil, and evil good." There can't be a workable immigration policy—indeed there cannot be clear thinking and categorieswhere there are no moral absolutes.


It's getting late and we have two immigrants at our table. (OK, maybe we have four, if you count my husband and me.) We eat vegetarian pizza and talk about anything from needy long distance girlfriends in India to ore mining in Sweden. They are welcome here, and we want them to know that they are loved, by God and by us.

Then, after the brownies are eaten and the conversation pauses, my husband does like Israel did. He reads from that Book that we always keep nearby, to strangers and non-strangers alike. He reads words that to us are familiar, but to them are entirely new. We want them to hear truth, because love needs truth to steer it.  


Yes, we were strangers too, 
"Gentiles in the flesh...
At that time [we] were without Chr!st
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel 
and strangers from the covenants of promise, 
having no hope and without God in the world. 

But now in [Him] you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood... 
He came and preached peace to you
who were afar off and to those who were near.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God..."
Our immigration and new citizenship would never have been accomplished without that perfect balance of love and truth. Neither will theirs.